Be prepared the next time you face flight cancellations

The Associated PressJanuary 7, 2014 

NEW YORK — A wave of snowstorms and bitter cold temperatures has caused headaches for hundreds of thousands of fliers whose flights have been canceled. In the past three days, more than 8,000 flights in the United States have been canceled, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.com. On Monday alone, 1 out of every 10 domestic flights never took off.

If you were headed to Chicago from Sea-Tac on Monday, you were probably out of luck, with seven out of 12 flights to the Windy City canceled. All JetBlue flights from Sea-Tac to Boston and New York were canceled.

“It’s been one weather system after another,” said Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durrant. “It’s been a challenging 72 hours.”

American Airlines said temperatures are so cold at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport that fuel and de-icing liquids were actually frozen. United Airlines said its fuel is pumping slower than normal in Chicago.

United Airlines had so many phone calls that it was suggesting travelers use its website to rebook.

JetBlue suspended most operations in New York and Boston through Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. EST. It said regular service wouldn’t resume until Tuesday afternoon.

The decision was made in light of weather forecasts that call for temperatures around zero and possible flash freezing. The company said it also needed time for crews to rest and for technicians to service planes. Some passengers have been stuck at Logan for two days, sleeping on cots and in concourse chairs.

In recent years, airlines have cut the number of flights to ensure that most of their planes depart full. That’s been great for their bottom line but leaves very few empty seats to rebook stranded travelers. Passengers are pretty much at the mercy of the airlines. But there are a few things you can do to improve your odds of getting home quickly:

 • If you miss your connection, the airlines will automatically rebook you on the next available flight. However, with flights at near capacity, the next open seat could be several days away.

 • If you’re unhappy with your rebooked flight, get in line to speak to a customer service representative. But also, pick up the phone and call the airline directly, go onto the airline’s website and even consider sending a tweet. If the phone lines are jammed, try the airline’s overseas numbers. You’ll pay long-distance rates, but might not have to wait.

 • Consider buying a one-day pass to the airline lounge. It’s a nice place to relax away from the crowd and there are usually free drinks and light snacks. But the real secret to the lounges is that the airline staffs them with some of its best — and friendliest — ticket agents. The lines inside will be much shorter and these agents are magically able to find empty seats where nobody else can. One-day passes typically cost $50.

 • Use apps such as HotelTonight and Priceline to find last-minute hotel discounts for that night. Warning: Many of the rooms are nonrefundable when booked.

Staff writer John Gillie contributed to this report.

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